Making a sourdough starter from scratch is such an enjoyable experience. Maybe the whole thing sounds daunting to you, as there are many stories of people meeting failure on their first attempt. Still, with this simple starter recipe and the associated troubleshooting pages, you should do just fine!
To complete the production of your starter, you’ll need around one kilo of bread and 250 grams of rye flour.
Place a medium-sized bowl on your scales and take note of the weight, you’ll need this later! Zero the scales and measure 150 grams of water, followed by 125 grams of white flour, and 25 grams of rye flour. Mix the ingredients with a spoon (fingers work fine also!) to remove the clumps of flour and produce a fairly even paste. It should take 1-2 minutes. Cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap and place it in a warm place for 2-4 days.
If it’s warm enough, the next day you might see lots of bubbles appearing. Your starter is creating gas already, which is exciting stuff, yeah? But don’t get too carried away, these bubbles are just temporary. To make an active starter, it’ll look worse in the next few days, before it gets better!
Wait until the bubbles start to die down. This will be after 2-4 days. Now you are ready to make your first refreshment.
Pop your container on the scales and deduct the weight of the container (noted in the first step). Remove and throw away around ¾ of your starter so you have 50 grams of starter remaining in the container.
Then weigh in 60 grams of water, 40 grams of white flour and 20 grams of rye flour. Stir until no lumps remain again, cover and leave in your warm spot.
After 24 hours, your starter should be bubbling again. If it has also risen, skip the middle stage and move on to the final stage refreshment. If there are bubbles but no rise, repeat the 60 grams of water, 40 grams of white flour and 20 grams of rye flour method every day until it rises. Once rising daily, move on to the next step.
Don’t be tempted to eat your starter during this time. The bacteria it contains can make you ill, so it’s best to wash your hands and surfaces thoroughly after each refreshment and avoid touching your face.
At this point, we reduce the size of the recipe and move the starter into a small container. We’ll also make the consistency of the starter thicker, this means it won’t peak too quickly so you are not having to feed it several times a day as it becomes more and more active.
Take a smaller container and add, 20 grams of starter, 20 grams water, 30 grams white flour and 10 grams rye flour. Mix, cover and place it in a warm spot as before. If the starter is too dry, increase the water to 25 grams.
Watch your starter whenever you can and learn when it is at the peak of its rise. It’s at this point that you should discard and feed. It’s peaking when it’s more than doubled in size, and the surface is flat, not cone-shaped.
A starter will sit at its peak for a couple of hours before collapsing. As it starts to collapse, the centre will being to drop first. Monitor it each morning and evening to check if it is peaking. If it collapses, there isn’t a major problem but try to avoid it happening too often as it weakens the starter.
If in doubt, feeding it before it peaks won’t cause a problem, some bakeries actually advocate feeding their starter before it peaks.
If you are going away for the day, you can store the starter in the fridge. Cool temperatures slow the starter’s activity. Try not to do this too often with a new starter as the fridge makes the yeast, bacteria, and enzymes almost dormant, so not recommended when you’re trying to build up activity.
For the next few days, continue making refreshments daily with the same refreshment recipe. You’ll start to see it clearly rising and doubling in size. It will be attracting wild yeasts and organic acid bacteria during this time. Expect the height of your starters rise to go up and down in the early days. Don’t worry if this happens, it’s just the enzymes adjusting to the changing environment.
If it’s warm where you are you could be feeding it two or three times a day, but hopefully once will be enough!
Your rising starter might look ready at this point as it has lots of bubbles, you might be tempted to see if it floats in water. Those are signs of a healthy starter, but the most important factor of its maturity is the smell. An immature starter won’t have much of a smell. Once mature it will have powerful earthy, alcoholic, acidic and grainy aromas. You won’t be able to miss it!
A ripe sourdough starter will have large bubbles running through it that break the surface. It should have a deep, sour and slightly alcoholic smell that’s definitely not rancid, vinegary or like nail polish remover. If the smell isn’t enjoyable, it’s not ready! A ripe starter will triple in size. If it is runny and especially warm, it will peak after being refreshed in around 4 hours. If it’s denser and/or cooler, this will take up to 12 hours.
Continue feeding until these factors are showing as they are all critical. Once they are, you’ve done it. You’ve made your own sourdough starter from scratch! Why not try my beginner’s sourdough recipe to make your first loaf?
When ready to use your starter, wait at least 3 hours after it is refreshed and remove the desired amount for the recipe. Then complete a refreshment with the remaining starter. As long as there is some starter left in your container, you will be able to refresh it
If you want to make a larger batch of dough or just need more starter for your recipes, double the refreshment recipe or use the same ratios of ingredients to increase the size of your feeds. If you need to increase the size of your starter, you may need to do this over multiple feeds.
Once your starter is active, you have three options:
See my mature starter feeding methods guide to keep your starter in the fridge.
Realistically, you can’t avoid discarding your starter. Not doing so would mean increasing the size of your starter, and to maintain the starter recipe ratio you would have to use a lot of flour! Your starter would be massive! What you can do is store your starter in the fridge when ripe and use some of it in sourdough discard recipes.
A thicker starter will require more water in the bread recipe to match the hydration. It also leads to a more powerful levain as 50 grams of a dense starter will arguably have more leavening properties than a runny one, purely because there is less water. A thicker starter will taste more yoghurty than a runnier one, as it contains fewer Lactic acids. That said, acetic acid can also produce gas, so a starter that produces less acetic acid won’t rise as quickly. Yeah, sourdough science can be confusing! See how to make sourdough more (or less) sour if you are looking for ways to change the flavour.
Adding all this up, my view is that a thicker starter is slower to rise, but makes bread rise faster when weighed and added to the dough recipe. Here’s a video that I don’t totally agree with but come to the same conclusion with an alternative view on why a thick starter is best.
To thicken or thin the starter, add extra or remove some water. Changes to hydration will become noticeably more drastic over 2-3 feeds as the starter becomes more or less wet.
This is an important topic that I love to talk about. The float test is when a teaspoon of starter is dropped into a glass of water. If it floats, then according to the method, it is ready. The test is not accurate and not needed. Flour has different densities, and sourdoughs can be wet or stiff, so the float test can produce misleading results.
The longer you wait after feeding will increase the concentration of wild yeasts and lactic acid bacteria. Though the starter doesn’t need to be at the peak of its rise. After feeding, I usually wait at least 3 hours before using it. A starter used when at its peak is more powerful and acidic.
Your main sourdough starter is called the “Motherdough”. Once a motherdough is established it can be kept in the fridge and refreshed weekly, or less frequently. The day before you are ready to bake, remove a portion from the motherdough to refresh. This becomes the starter you use to make your sourdough bread.
Maybe you can’t get your starter to rise, or it’s been neglected for a while? If so, take a look at my sourdough troubleshooting page; why is my starter not rising. It provides several tricks to boost activity in your starter and a bit of the science behind the method in this starter recipe.
That’s the end! You now know how to start, build and maintain a brand new sourdough starter. I hope you give it a go and keep it for years! If you are a sourdough beginner, I recommend following this sourdough bread recipe for beginners. If you have any problems with your starter, hop over to the sourdough troubleshooting guide, which covers many of the issues you are likely to face. You are also invited to use the comments section at the bottom of the page. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a few faqs!
Providing there are some bubbles and a rise, the starter can be used to make bread. If the starter doesn’t triple in size the bread will just take longer.
Thinner starters are faster to activate, some bakeries use a liquid sourdough as their mother levain. These raise bread faster but they will need to be refreshed regularly. A thicker starter is preferred for home bakers.
Left at room temperature, sourdough should be fed when it rises. Depending on how much fresh flour is used to feed it and the temperature the starter is kept at this will be between once and three times a day.
If you are going to miss a feed or two, put it in the fridge after refreshing it. On return, take it out of the fridge and warm it up. If it doesn’t peak within 12 hours, feed it will equal quantities of starter, flour and water.
Give the starter a feed at a ratio of 1:8:10 starter, water and flour, then put it in the fridge. The sourdough will have enough food to slowly consume for a couple of weeks. If you leave it for several weeks your starter will need a few refreshments to return to its previous levels of activity.
Sourdough prefers the same ingredients to allow the same bacteria inside it to multiply. Using different flours upsets the balance and weakens it. A sourdough starter is best to feed with the same flour each day but it’s better to feed with something instead of letting it starve.
Yes, if you want to permanently change the flour of your sourdough starter, just change it. After a couple of days of regular feedings, the bacteria will adjust and you’ll have a strong sourdough again.
The minerals found in the ash of whole wheat and rye flours will slow down the rate of lactic acid activity which allows the enzymes to strengthen. This makes the starter more powerful than a 100% white flour sourdough.
Sourdoughs containing whole grains are more resistant to undesirable conditions. This makes them a perfect choice to include in your starter recipe if following a zero-waste starter feeding method.
Whilst you can use all-purpose flour to make sourdough bread, for the starter use bread flour if you can. The higher amounts of gluten increase the minerals and bacteria. These boost and develop wild yeasts and lactic acid to create a more powerful levain.
Yes, they can. It is common to trade a portion of white flour with wholemeal or rye. It provides a slightly nutty, deeper aroma. You can separate the sourdough and have multiple mother doughs if you like.
The reason a portion of the sourdough starter is discarded before refreshment is to reduce the amount of flour and water needed to feed it. A no discard method would result in too much sourdough.
Unless you are using it every day, it’s best left in the fridge and fed weekly. The day before you make bread, take a portion out to refresh.
Yes, but making a 100% wholemeal starter is preferred as it contains the same bacteria.
Never start again! This is a common occurrence, to fix it, first warm it up or look at my sourdough starter is not rising post.
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